Odds and quads

April 15, 2010

Dom Sylvester Houedard (1924-92), often known as DSH, served with British military intelligence in Asia before becoming a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire.

While running the library, ministering to the sick and engaging in ecumenical debate, he also established himself as a master of the art of "concrete poetry" - based on a physical object rather than just words on a page.

This example is a version of a celebrated haiku by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, written around 1686, which translates as "Old pond/Frog jumps in/Sound of water".

This haiku has been translated into English well over 100 times - although DSH masterfully reduced the original's 17 syllables to just three four-letter words: frog, pond, plop.

The "poem" was found in the wardrobe of one of Houedard's monastic cells after his death, amid vast quantities of writing and magazines housed in cardboard boxes originally designed to hold whisky.

It was deposited with the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, where it now forms part of the Modern Literary Archives.

Send suggestions for this series on the sector's treasures, oddities and curiosities to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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